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Reckless words, policies catch up with Abe

By Martin Sieff | China Daily | Updated: 2014-08-15 08:23

In this year of sobering historical reminders, Aug 15 marks the 69th anniversary of Japan's announcement of surrender in World War II. That date is unlikely to bring inspiration or comfort to Japan's increasingly beleaguered Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

This year Abe has been trying to turn the popularity he earned for trying to revive Japan's long-moribund domestic economy into support for his rearmament and increasingly assertive foreign policies. But these typically bold moves have backfired on him. Support for Abe is falling fast. About 46 percent of Japanese now disapprove of his economic policies according to a poll conducted by the pro-Abe Sankei newspaper. His general support now runs at 48 percent and is plunging fast according to another poll, published in Nikkei newspaper, a far cry from his 76 percent approval rating after his first six months in office.

It was already clear that Abe's shift in focus from economic reform to military and foreign affairs was worrying Japan's neighbors. It is now also clear that these moves have alarmed the Japanese people too.

Abe tried to clothe his radical new directions in military and foreign policy as simply trying to bring Japan in line with the norms of international behavior and security obligations. But his extraordinary efforts to whitewash the appalling war crimes of the imperial Japanese military from 1937 to 1945 tell a different story.

Abe has repeatedly shocked Asia by his brazen efforts to turn the clock back and smother any free and open debate in the Japanese media and education system about those years. These efforts amount to an Asian equivalent of Holocaust denial in Europe. No wonder, therefore, that people in countries such as China and South Korea, which suffered the most from Japanese occupation, were outraged. Abe never grasped that any normal country's leaders would express horror and remorse at Japan's war crimes, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel continues to do.

None of this anger has had the slightest effect on Abe. On the contrary, he appears to have reveled in it. But now the Japanese people themselves are rejecting his adventurism and risk taking.

Abe, whatever his ambition, is a veteran politician. His first term as prime minister burned out after only one year. He was convinced that his new programs for the economy and other areas would finally bring him lasting success and restore his Liberal Democratic Party's fortunes this time round.

Instead, as Japanese economists have said, Abe's much vaunted domestic reforms have plunged the country deeper into public debt. Abe never faced up to the vital restructuring reforms Japan really needed. As a result, the economy is floundering, the yen is falling and exports are stagnant.

At every step, Abe took the easy way forward. He thought that by buying popularity on the home front, he would also win the popular backing he needed for his militarization and confrontational policies abroad. But that has not happened. Abe's reckless spending has raised increasing alarm at home and it is having progressively less success in generating increased employment and economic growth. Whenever the Japanese people have had the chance to express their opinions on his risk taking and gambling in foreign affairs they have come out strongly against it.

US policymakers, diplomats and media pundits continue to treat Abe with kid gloves and give him the benefit of every doubt. They have forgotten the lessons of World War II when Japan invaded most of the countries in the Asia-Pacific region. And they need to ask what the impact will be on regional security if Abe continues his hawkish policies.

Abe appears incapable of learning from his mistakes. However, the anniversary of Japan's humiliation and total surrender to the Allied forces on the deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept 2, 1945, will serve as a further reminder to his people of what the old militaristic policies led to - and why they must never be indulged in again.

The author is chief global analyst at The Globalist Research Center and a senior fellow of the American University in Moscow, and has the book, Shifting Superpowers: The New and Emerging Relationship between the United States, China and India, to his credit.

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